Matthew Bell: The IoS Diary

Prepared to sort things out over a White House beer

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Griff Rhys Jones is in hot water with the fishing community after encouraging us all to get in our canoes to disturb as many fishermen as possible.

His incendiary comments have proved a brilliant way of promoting his new series Rivers with Griff Rhys Jones, starting on BBC1 tonight. But I can reveal that he should not have been making the programme at all. The concept for the show, which has him exploring Britain's forgotten rivers by boat, was dreamed up by angler and writer Charles Rangeley-Wilson. Three years ago his hit BBC show called The Accidental Angler saw him travel the world in pursuit of weird and wonderful fish. I'm told he pitched his idea to the BBC but wasn't considered famous enough by celebrity-obsessed producers – and Rhys Jones was drafted in. "The irony is that Charles is a keen fisherman, but the BBC brought in someone who is totally anti- them," whispers my mole with the maggot tin.

***

For those who see modern art as one of the greatest cons of all time, Charles Saatchi is the man leading the way. But now I hear he is doffing his cap at the Old Masters, by paying for a group of young artists to study the works of the great English painters. A number of country house owners have been approached by Saatchi stooges to see if they would be willing to allow his disciples access to their collections, which they would study and use as inspiration for their own work. The chatelaine would be paid £4,000 a day for their hospitality, a sum not to be sniffed at for anyone running a big house. The idea is part of a project Saatchi is running in conjunction with the BBC, called Best of British, in which he sets out X Factor-like to discover the next generation of British artists. The show is to be broadcast in the autumn.

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One of the highlights of the week for media junkies was the grilling of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in front of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, over how much he knew about the illegal activities of the reporters under his watch. Among those glued to the drama was Peter Burden, the author of an unauthorised book about the paper, Fake Sheikhs & Royal Trappings. Burden has since written up his take on proceedings on his blog, complaining about what he claims to be a lack of honesty in the answers offered by the News of the Screws execs. Indeed, his article "A Case for Waterboarding?" uses language far too fruity to repeat here, as it is clearly libellous. How will the Screws respond? Will it be suing? If it doesn't, do we take it he is right? Over to a News International spokesman: "We are monitoring all coverage, including him and his little blog."

***

In a case of art imitating life imitating art, the Mayor of Baltimore Sheila Dixon is due to stand trial in September in a story that could come straight out of The Wire. In January she was charged with 12 counts of theft, perjury, fraudulent misappropriation and misconduct, stemming from gifts she had accepted from her former boyfriend, the property developer, Ronald H Lipscomb. But in the course of the past six months, the charges have been dropped one by one, and she is now only accused of theft. David Simon, a former Baltimore journalist, says he was inspired to write The Wire by his experience of covering the city's mean streets and complicated politics. In Series 4, Mayor Clarence Royce gets away with his dodgy dealings with property dealers, but eventually loses the election. Will life imitate art for Dixon?

***

Following my story last week questioning the merits of sending BBC sports editor Mihir Bose to Madrid and Newsnight economics editor Stephanie Flanders to Munich on two apparently pointless stories, it seems there is no end to the Beeb's extravagance when it comes to going abroad. Wednesday's Newsnight had a 12-minute report – that's a quarter of the whole show – on, er, the rise of the Pirate Party in Sweden.

Correspondent Matt Prodger was clearly having a whale of time, taking boats out on to the sun-soaked Swedish archipelago, hanging out with Swedish youths at a music festival, even interviewing the Swedish Prime Minister. Quite what the point of it all was is hard to tell, but at least it was easy on the eye.

m.bell@independent.co.uk

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